Saint Mary's Aussie import makes an impression in Beijing, USA
MORAGA, Calif. -- Patty Mills sat down with his father Benny for lunch in his hometown of Canberra, Australia, after returning from the Beijing Olympics, when a few folks started to stop by to say hello.
Bennett saw Mills' transformation firsthand in Beijing. He was there for two of Mills' games: a must-win against Russia to get Australia into the medal round, and a game against Lithuania. Mills averaged a team-best 14.2 points, all off the bench, in the six games the Aussies played in Beijing. He scored 20 points in a quarterfinal loss to the United States, including three assists, two steals and zero turnovers in 28 minutes. That game included blazing past NBA All-Stars Chris Paul and Deron Williams.
"The Olympics gave me a sense of what it's like to play against the best in the world," Mills said. "Playing in the NBA is one of my long-term goals. But playing two games [one exhibition and one game in the medal round] isn't a full season. I know I have an enormous way to go to reach that level."
If Patty hadn't done what he did in the Olympics, people wouldn't have ranked us as high; it would have been a normal summer. Everyone would have forgotten about us. But the perception of Saint Mary's has changed.
That's why Mills said he never considered taking the bait of playing professionally after the Olympics.Mills may be as grounded as they come. He fully grasps where he has come from, and despite being -- as Bennett said -- "really big over there," he doesn't show he has changed one bit. "I firmly believe I'm not ready, and I said right after the first year at Saint Mary's that I was coming back," Mills said. "It left such a good impression on me in basketball, academics and the people here." The feeling is mutual.
Mills returned with tremendous confidence, a pro's mentality, something he said he had to learn rather quickly while playing with men in the Olympics. Bennett and assistant David Patrick -- a native Australian who was with Bennett in Beijing and who has known Mills since he was a nine-year-old ball boy in Canberra, where Patrick was playing -- both said they noticed the change in Mills' game approach as soon as warm-ups began.Watching him as a spectator rather than as a coach, Bennett said he couldn't get over how professional Mills was to start a game. Even though this was his player, only a rising sophomore, someone who just turned 20 during the Olympics in August, Bennett said he was amazed by Mills' maturity in ensuring Bennett and Patrick got to visit the Olympic village and go out to dinner with them. "That was cool. He didn't have to; he was in the Olympics," Bennett said. "That's how he is." The change in Mills is palpable. "He's more professional in everything," Bennett said. "That's the difference." Patrick said Mills' poise and leadership -- something he showed in leading the Gaels with 14.8 points a game -- stood out for him while watching Mills in the Olympics. Mills was the only U.S. collegian in the Games. That alone would be remarkable. Add to that the fact that he's Australian and a proud representative of indigenous Australians and you've got an impressive story.
Watching Mills in practice, though, it's clear he gets that he has to change speeds and use it judiciously. He said driving past Paul was a case of seeing the open lane and taking advantage. But his teammates want to run with him. That's why Samhan said he lost weight over the summer, so he could run with him."We all knew he was fast, but they [the NBA players] underestimated him," Simpson said.
The reason Mills' stock will continue to increase throughout the year is that he is on an NCAA team.
"We're deep," Bennett said. "We're not a one-man show. We've got a chance to have a special year."The Gaels return four starters from last season's second-place West Coast Conference team that lost its final two games -- at San Diego in the semifinals of the WCC tournament and to Miami in the NCAA tournament. The Gaels, who beat Gonzaga at home to split the season series, have the balance necessary with Mills, Hughes, junior redshirt Wayne Hunter and Mickey McConnell on the perimeter, the WCC Defensive Player of the Year Simpson, Ian O'Leary, Lucas Walker, Samhan and Allen up front. Watching the Gaels in practice you can see speed, shooting and size as well as the necessary experience for a team at this level to succeed.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
MORE MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL HEADLINES
- UNC's McDonald reinstated; Hairston still out
- Randle-led Stanford upsets No. 10 UConn
- AD backs SIU coach after tirade goes viral
- Laettner's jersey from 'The Shot' at auction
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
2008-09 Season Preview
Hear that, college hoops fans? It's the sound of college teams returning to the hardwood, as another season is just around the corner. If North Carolina is the best in the land, who checks in just behind the Tar Heels? Dickie V thinks he knows the answer. Vitale's preseason top 40
• Katz: Jayhawks prepare for Round 2
• Katz: Memphis on the mend after KU debacle
• O'Neil: Samuels, Caracter take separate paths
• O'Neil: Humble pie a good remedy for Gators
• Schlabach: Slimmer Pittman hopes to power UT
• O'Neil: Griffin ready to power Sooners
• Katz: Robinson campaigns to rebuild OSU
• OTL: Behind the scenes with Robinson, Obamas
• O'Neil: The evolution of Madness
• O'Neil: Injured players ready to return
• O'Neil: Steele ready to run again for Tide
• Katz: Healthy Mitchell ready to lead LSU
• Katz: Curry returns to run revamped Friars
• Whelliston: Mid-majors welcome in transfers
• Katz: Wake frosh trio ready to power Deacons
• Katz: Barnes has steadily built Texas into power
• Katz: Williams, Marquette on the line
• Katz: Johnson and LSU a good fit
• O'Neil: Bo knows good conditioning
• Katz: Davis ready for next step at PC
• O'Neil: From Ivy to A-10, Dunphy fits in Philly
• Katz: Kruger enjoying second chances
• Katz: Older and wiser, Alford feels at home
• Katz: Aboya plans for life off the court
• Katz: Mills impresses at Saint Mary's, in Beijing
• O'Neil: Hardship waivers causing headaches
• O'Neil: Duke focuses on slaying March demons
• Katz: Curry gets used to life in the spotlight
• Katz: UConn bunker is all business
• Forde: In Kentucky, Madness begins in October
• O'Neil: Landry's a family man off the court
• Katz: Siena ready to take the next step
• Katz: Miami's McClinton finds a perfect fit
• Whelliston: Welcome to the Great West
• Ford: B.J. Mullens heads hot list on Draft Watch
• Katz: Roe's recovery great news for Spartans